In a recent Slate article, Anne Applebaum makes the case that Egypt’s presumptive president-to-be ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi should look to India, Brazil or South Africa, rather than the United States or other industrialized states, for examples of how to “do” democracy. She rightly notes that Sisi’s argument that Egypt isn’t ready for democracy is an old standby for authoritarian regimes.
On June 6, 2012, the Jerusalem Development Authority launched its fourth annual Jerusalem Festival of Light in the Old City. The previous year’s show had been a resounding success, according to sponsors quoted in the Jerusalem Post, with over 250,000 visitors enjoying “art installations bursting with light and 3-D movies splayed across the city’s ancient walls and buildings.” In 2011, the Muslim Quarter of the Old City was included within the festival’s purview for the first time, with Damascus Gate retooled as the backdrop for a massive video projection.
Tourist destinations are never simply reducible to the sun, sand and sea they offer. The lucrative international trade associated with Third World tourism involves packaging and marketing areas of the world that are most devastated by contemporary economic conditions, essentially creating landscapes of paradise out of realities of poverty. The case of Dahab, a small coastal town in South Sinai, Egypt, offers an example of the processes and power dynamics involved in the production of tourist spaces. What are the political, economic, cultural and moral forces that shape Dahab? Who are the players involved in shaping this local site of tourism, and what are the interests at stake?
The old village of Umm Qays, Jordan, is strategically lo cated to the south of the Golan Heights, overlooking the northern part of the Jordan Valley and the southern shore of Lake Tiberias. Biblical Gadara and subsequently one of the cities of the Decapolis in antiquity, it attracts modest numbers of both foreign and Jordanian tourists. From the mid-twentieth century on, Umm Qays residents increasingly abandoned farming for work in the civil service and the army, and a new village began to develop adjacent to the original village.
She doesn’t look like a classic madam. About 50 years old, Hagga lives in a simple flat in the chic Cairene quarter of Muhandisin. Her black abaya (cape and headscarf) evince a more traditional outlook. Even her language is full of religious references. “Tomorrow you can have two girls, God willing. For the furnished flat you have to pay extra. May God make it easy for us.”
Summer is the peak season for the business of furnished fiats, complete with a “housemaid” who can come at any time of the day or night and in any shape, color or size. That is when the khaligiyyin — the Gulf Arabs — invade the city looking for cool air and a hot time.
Until 1985, the small B’doul tribe resided among the historic ruins of Petra. They made most of their income from tourism, serving as guides, renting out their caves, and selling food and beverages. They also sold archaeological objects found among the ruins, mostly the shards of pots.
In 1985 the Jordanian government moved them to a new village. This relocation was a consequence of two ongoing projects: one to sedentarize the Bedouin, the other to give Petra the status of a national park and thus improve tourism. The actual move was 20 years in the making.
Is Israel experiencing an identity crisis? Some such symptoms are evident in a confusion over the territorial, historical and cultural boundaries of contemporary Israeli society. The tourism industry, with its consumer demands and political agendas, is exacerbating this crisis.
In Near East Travel’s East Jerusalem office, a satellite photograph of the Middle East is framed under glass, inscribed with the names of countries and major cities. National borders are unmarked. The Holy Land — so the map is labeled — appears as a single, seamless territory.
A full-page advertisement for Galilee Tours, an Israeli company, features a mock road sign in green and white. A single arrow, diverging from a central vector with Tel Aviv at its base, points the way to Jerusalem, Amman and Petra, another to Tiberias and Damascus.
In 1987, during one of my first visits to Morocco, I attended a series of rock concerts in Marrakesh with a group of friends who had been invited to the event to represent their youth group. The organizers of the concerts, the local Grand Atlas association, invited us to tour the medina. During one such walk, one of the Marrakeshis talked about how delicious steamed sheep’s head would be for lunch. In spite of the torrid July heat, most of our group agreed that a casual lunch in a small restaurant was a fine idea.
Ayman wanted a job in tourism. But he did badly on his high-school language exams and spent two years at a school in Luxor, across the river from his village, struggling to master enough rudimentary English and German to get into the hotel school at Qina. His most vivid memory from his two years in Qina was the night when he and the other front-desk trainees played the role of guests in a restaurant for the final exam of the student waiters and cooks.
One tourism strategy in the Middle East is the cordon sanitaire or containment model. Tourist activities are limited to specific areas — what Algeria and Tunisia call “zones touristiques.” Club Med in Egypt is outside Hurghada, on the Red Sea coast. In Algeria, every worker at the hotel complex at Sidi Ferruj, west of Algiers, happily informed me that the site was chosen by the government to mark the place where the French first landed in 1830. Algeria also promotes “nature” tourism to the Sahara, making it possible to fly directly from Europe to Tamanrasset in the Algerian interior and completely bypass the populated coastal region.
Thomas Cook and Sons’ first tour excursions in 1841 mark the birth of a global industry, in a decade that also included the founding of the Cunard Lines and the Wells Fargo successor, American Express. Cook began to internationalize its operations in the 1860s, creating the first package tours for England’s consumers and turning southern Egypt into one of the original resorts of the rich and famous.
Nouri Bouzid, Bezness (1992).
What happens when a poor Arab country with a high birth rate, an enormous youth population and endemic unemployment bases a significant part of its development strategy on attracting European tourism? In Nouri Bouzid’s film, Bezness, the Tunisian coastal town of Sousse is the site for just such an experiment, with disastrous consequences for the local population.